School mathematics for the prospective honours graduate

The Edinburgh Mathematical Society met in the Department of Natural Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh on Saturday 2 March 1940. The President, Frederick Bath, was in the chair. There was a discussion on the topic of "School mathematics for the prospective honours graduate." The discussion was opened by Mr William Moffat Inverarity, from the point of view of a schoolmaster, Professor H W Turnbull (St Andrews), representing the point of view of the universities, and Mr A Lang, H.M. Senior Inspector of Schools. We give below a minute of this meeting:


All the speakers emphasised difficulties to be faced in the present educational system. The main practical proposals which emerged were made as follows.

By Mr Inverarity:-

(1) The Bursary Examinations should be remodelled a little; e.g. allow one or two essay questions.

(2) Encourage study on simple lines of the nature of mathematical reasoning.

(3) Encourage students to look on mathematics as consisting of subjects to be read rather than merely different types of problems to be worked.

By Professor Turnbull:-

(1) Encourage good students to read text-books by themselves with tutorial assistance.

(2) Let them at all stages have opportunities of glimpsing the kind of thing that they will encounter at later stages.

(3) Teach more applied mathematics and use it to provide practice in algebra and trigonometry.

(4) Students should read something of the history of mathematics in the vocation before entering the University.

(5) The art of writing mathematical language should be cultivated and regarded as part of the English course in a school.

By Mr Lang:-

(1) Division of schools (where staff and finance permit) into mathematical sets, on the model of schools in England.

(2) Get hold of the good pupil soon and let them go at their own pace as far as they can with advantage.

Also in the open discussion which followed, the following points were made by Professor Whittaker:-

(1) A lower age limit, say 17, should be set in the Bursary Examination to prevent good students from being encouraged to waste an extra year or two of school by headmasters who want to ensure good football and cricket teams.

(2) The multiplication of university Courses (e.g. have 1st, 2nd and 3rd ordinary classes) so that good students shall not waste their first year at the University on work already done.


JOC/EFR April 2016

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